It’s fixtures time! So who are the ideal opposition for opening day?

We interrupt your World Cup shenanigans because…it’s that time again…rejoice, it’s fixtures day tomorrow! What better way to plan for the 2018/19 season then to spend hours pontificating to your work mate (who really couldn’t care less) about the perils of Oldham away on a Tuesday night in December?!

Of course with the small distraction of events in Russia, this year’s fixtures release has snuck up on us like a Shaun McWilliams tackle but all the better for it as the Cobblers prepare to learn the dates of key clashes in their bid to make a swift return to League One. So who should we be looking for as an ideal first opponent come the big kick off and who would provide the tougher assignments for Dean Austin’s first full hunting season?

The obvious choices to avoid are the teams just relegated with us from League One so that counts out Oldham Atheltic, Bury and MK Dons. We also want to dodge the two teams coming up – momentum will still be very much with both Tranmere Rovers and Conference National winners Macclesfield Town. You’d want to kick things off at home so that eliminates some testing long haul opening days at the likes of Carlisle United and Exeter City.

Those with a ‘new manager bounce’ should also be avoided so the aforementioned Exeter, Carlisle, MK Dons, Oldham and Macclesfield should, in theory at least, be better left to a mid-season encounter.

Now let’s take out the teams in the best form towards the end of last season that are left in the division – Crewe Alexandra and Grimsby Town both finished the campaign with three consecutive wins while Cambridge United and Notts County also finished well.

That leaves us with eleven possibilities so to narrow it down more we’ll discard Mansfield Town, Lincoln City, Swindon Town and Colchester United who haven’t been taken out already but are within the front runners with the bookies.

We’re looking for an opposition who will cause a bit of a stir by coming to Sixfields on the opening day but who also ended last season in poor form and who are down the list in the betting and any list of expectant title or promotion winners. There is, then, having taken all of the above into consideration, only one standout opponent and that is Cheltenham Town.

Gary Johnson left Sixfields under a mighty cloud having done next to nothing with the club, alienating fans and upsetting the majority of the fan base, and his Robins side ended the season with four straight defeats to leave them with an uncertain summer. Fans are divided as to whether they believe Johnson is the man to take them forward and what better way to kick off our return to League Two then to ‘welcome’ Johnson back to Sixfields and then send him on his merry way pointless?

When Carlisle away comes out tomorrow morning (9am fixtures announcement!) don’t blame me but we can only hope that things fall a little more invitingly.

It’s the first milestone of the summer in the Football League…bring it on!

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The ‘A Load of Cobblers’ Alternative Review of the Season 2017/18: April and May

With six games to go and an overwhelming sense of doom hanging over the Cobblers, the season looked as lost as Terry Fenwick in a manager’s coat ahead of what was, on paper, a terrifying trip to London Road to face The Posh.

The damage to Jimmy Floyd’s Cobblers reign had been done many times over ahead of the derby and the fact that the eventual 2-0 defeat was seen as something of a relief to have not been hammered told you everything about the last few weeks. Hasselbaink had no way back and following a pre, during and post-match rant by previous derby hero Ian Sampson on BBC Radio Northampton it was confirmed that the Cobblers were indeed parting ways with the former Chelsea man.

Dean Austin was the man charged with salvaging something – anything – out of the season with relegation highly likely with five games to play. Austin had been mainly in the background as Jimmy’s assistant over the previous months and was really in a no lose scenario as caretaker boss until the end of the season.

Austin’s first game in charge stuck with the norm as Town succumbed to a disastrous 3-0 reverse at Blackpool and hope was fading fast that he could mastermind a complete change of fortunes.

But sometimes hope makes you suffer more than the reality as the Cobblers and Austin suddenly came to life, playing with a heart and a desire that had arguably not been seen since the League Two championship winning side.

First came three points at fellow strugglers Bury. Town took the lead through Ash Taylor before The Shakers, all but down before the game, levelled a few minutes later thanks to Peter Clarke’s close range goal. Sam Hoskins raced through for 2-1 but Danny Mayor looked to have put the hosts’ relegation on hold with Bury’s second equaliser. Taylor then majestically swooped like a woken starling to hammer in Dan Powell’s cross with two minutes to go for the Cobblers and that winning feeling had returned in dramatic style.

There were still a whole host of games in hand to be played but with the Cobblers three points from safety there was that glimmer of a chance that we could pull of what would have been a miraculous escape. Even more so after playoff chasing Plymouth Argyle came to town.

This would be the performance of the season and the one that may well have earned Austin the full time job. The Cobblers played with verve, hunger and passion and deservedly beat their high flying opponents in front of a Sixfields atmosphere to match. John-Joe O’Toole deflected the ball home just before the break before Sonny Bradley’s own goal made it two on the hour mark. Suddenly, with two of the three teams above us to play in the last two games there was something to fight for again.

It would, though, come to the cruellest of ends in true Cobblers style. The trip to Walsall, with a mass of claret humanity urging the side on, was one of THOSE games. Town hit the woodwork twice and had the ball cleared off the line before a frantic finale. Austin decided to go for broke and the home side sensed a chance at the other end as George Dobson steered the Saddlers towards their own safety and sent us to the very edge of the drop, now needing a huge goal swing against Oldham on the last day to survive.

Oldham still needed to match Rochdale’s result to survive themselves and looked well on course when George Edmundson struck early on. But a Matt Grimes penalty and an Ash Taylor scramble set nerves jangling in the away end. When Rochdale took their lead in their game against Charlton that became full on panic and even though the visitors levelled it wasn’t enough and the Cobblers had dragged them down to League Two with us.

It was an exhausting final few weeks but it was all given to us by Dean Austin bringing in a completely new way of playing, by instilling belief and fire into the players and really putting himself out in front in the running to become permanent boss. Yes it still resulted in relegation but the Cobblers fans had their club back, the players were united with us again and we could actually look forward ahead of a season back in League Two.

It came as no surprise, then, that Austin was named full time manager just after the seasons’ end and we can hopefully look forward to better things to come over the summer and into a challenging League Two campaign.

Twitter Said:

@chronsport “The Cobblers did not just beat Plymouth, they battered them. If 2-0 could ever be classed as a thrashing, this was it. Those in the away end may claim their side played poorly but the truth is they were made to look poor by a transformed Cobblers team.”

@James_ChronNTFC Tell you what, never mind the manager’s job. Dean Austin deserves a knighthood for getting a performance like *that* out of the Cobblers. Sensational. 2-0 flatters Plymouth.

@TomalinJames Cobblers essentially get relegated, and I get blocked on Twitter by the Shadow Home Secretary! #oneofthosedays

Moment of the Month:

The 2-0 win over Plymouth at Sixfields – superb on and off the pitch.

Player of the Month:

Ash Taylor summed up the newly found spirit in the camp. Sam Hoskins had an excellent month too.

Song for the Month:

 

The ‘A Load of Cobblers’ Alternative Review of the Season 2017/18: March

“Am I meant to be playing left back, Jimmy?”

After a two week mini winter break, it was on to the final furlong of the season as the Cobblers looked to hold on to their position just above the bottom four in League One.

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink had dipped into his Orange Pages just before the trip to Bristol Rovers to bring in fellow Dutchman and striker Kevin Luckassen, formerly of AZ Alkmaar, Ross County, Slovan Liberec and SKN St Polten (thanks Wikipedia!) to bolster the attacking ranks. His luck was indeed in as big Kev scored within moments of his debut by coming off the bench to nod in an equaliser at Bristol Rovers in a 1-1 draw to kick off March.

Playing at Sixfields was Hasselbaink’s worst enemy though after he’d come out and publically showed his anger at home fans booing after the 0-0 draw with Oxford United at the end of February. The murmurings were getting louder and louder after another dismal performance at home, this time against playoff bound Rotherham United who took a comfortable 3-0 win back to Yorkshire.

Better was to come on the Tuesday night with a good 1-1 draw with high flying Shrewsbury that was all going right at the break as Shay Facey put the Cobblers in front. But when John-Joe O’Toole and Abu Ogogo decided to bring some WWE skills into proceedings, earning them both an early bath, any flow was unsettled and Jon Nolan would earn his side a point.

A crucial trip to fellow strugglers Fleetwood Town was up next and it would prove to be a critical point in the season and in Hasselbaink’s reign. A poor performance, a 2-0 defeat and a long trudge home led to many believing that this was the beginning of the end for the season and for Jimmy.

Those thoughts were compounded in the final game of the month as Charlton Athletic won 4-0 at Sixfields in an afternoon stroll on Good Friday. With a trip to arch rivals Peterborough United up next, the gloom surrounding the club was palpable and it was, from here, only a matter of time before the Hasslebaink reign was, mercifully, brought to an end. With just six games to go and with Town back in the bottom four, the writing was very much on the wall.

Twitter Said:

@ian_townsend JFH is the only manager who makes unfathomable selections that not one cobblers fan would make he must be a genius we’ve not recognised it yet

@alan0015 Well that was a soggy and cold afternoon at Sixfields. Lost 0-4 to Charlton who were decent to be fair, but Cobblers looked clueless. #ntfc #goingdown

@TheRealCase Well, that was a bit of horror show by the Cobblers at Sixfields today. Rotherham were good, but Town allowed them so much time and space. Playing at home looks to have become a real problem for some of this team, and that does not bode well for their survival chances #ntfc

Moment of the Month:

Not a lot to go on so I’ll go with Luckassen’s first touch in a Cobblers shirt finding the next at The Mem.

Player of the Month:

Next…

Song for the Month:

Coming up: Bye bye Jimmy, hello Dean and relegation despite a renewal of hope.

 

The ‘A Load of Cobblers’ Alternative Review of the Season 2017/18: February

As February came into view, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink seemed to finally have his marbles in order, his team in some sort of shape and his new signings playing ball and it was time to look up the table rather than down it, powered on by the momentum gained in a spectacular (by our standards) January.

What better way to start than with a home game against a Rochdale side distracted by a fine run in the FA Cup? Obviously this game appearing like a beacon of hope for three pocketable points should have been a warning sign. Dale promptly came, saw and took home a single goal victory thanks to Calvin Andrew.

The Cobblers were, though, putting out their best work on the road and the away form was helping to keep our heads just above water. Goals from Matt Grimes, Matt Crooks and Daniel Powell helped us to an impressive 3-1 success at AFC Wimbledon to keep up an unbeaten away run in 2018 that would stretch through the first couple of months of the calendar year.

Then it happened. I’m sure how to describe it other than an atrocity of a first half performance. A team that had looked so good at Wimbledon was suddenly looking as abject as anything put out in many a year, especially at a stunned Sixfields. Gillingham could and should have been more than 2-0 up at half-time in a game that even Terry Fenwick would have despaired at. The fact that Town pulled one back in the second half through Ash Taylor did nothing to hide the abomination of that first forty five yet we could easily have nicked a point. Hildeberto Pereira’s red card for falling for Lee Martin’s tricks and reacting to the former Town man in a way that many in the stands would have liked to have reacted put the seal on a dismal night.

This was about the time in the season where Jimmy’s tinkering grew to whole new levels and his relationship with the Cobblers faithful took a turn as players began popping up in strange positions and his post match reactions attempted to hide the baffling nature of his teams performances.

Next up was a trip to Scunthorpe United and Town took the lead twice through Chris Long and John-Joe O’Toole but both times the hosts hit back to earn what, on paper, was a very good point. It was the form at Sixfields, though, that was dragging us down, so much so that a 0-0 draw with Oxford United a week later was seen as something of a success despite a smattering of boos greeting the full time whistle.

Town ended the month in 19th place but most sides still held plenty of games in hand over us, setting up a frantic few Tuesday nights in the run-in as gaps started to close and the net began closing in.

Twitter Said:

@James_ChronNTFC: HT: Cobblers 0-2 Gillingham. Just when you think you have this #ntfc team figured out, they throw in a 45 minutes like that. Beyond bad. 2-0 flatters them. Cue boos.

@chronsport HT Cobblers 0 Gillingham 2 – and so ends a truly awful first half from the Cobblers. Clueless as an attacking force, all over the place in defence. It can only get better #ntfc

@dannybrothers #ntfc form is like a toddler having constant tantrums and then coming back downstairs with a heartfelt apology every time.

Moment of the Month:

The 3-1 victory at Wimbledon looked a huge result at the time.

Player of the Month:

Richard O’Donnell picked up the official award after a strong start to his Town career.

Song for the Month:

Coming Up: March blues as Jimmy’s reign unravels and the Cobblers drift towards eventual doom. Looking forward to it…

 

The ‘A Load of Cobblers’ Alternative Review of the Season 2017/18: January

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day. It’s a new year. Welcome to 2018 everyone! It had been a horrific couple of months barring one or two decent results and the Cobblers, Jimmy Floyd and Kelvin Thomas were up against it in a fight to stay in League One. But never fear, the transfer window was here to save the day!

In came Richard O’Donnell, a solid stopper at this level as well as the promising right back Shay Facey, the all-out attacking left wingback Jo Bunney, central defender Jordan Turnbull and, erm, Jack Bridge. Also coming in was Hildeberto Pereira, a flashy yet fiery character last seen on these shores at Nottingham Forest. Finishing off the recruitment was a man who even got his own promotional signing video from the club – it’s Jimmy’s fellow Dutchman Kevin Van Veen of course, here to save the day. Joking aside, Van Veen signing was seen as a real coup at the time and one that could propel us right out of the bottom four single handedly. Oh well…

Jimmy had a small clear out of his cupboard as well with strikers Marc Richards and Alex Revell on their way back to League Two with Swindon and Stevenage respectively while George Smith, who had made that outstanding start to Hasselbaink’s reign by setting up the first goal of the Hasselbaink era within twenty seconds, was sold to Chesterfield to make way for Bunney.

On the pitch, things seemed to be continuing in the same vein (Van Veen?) as Town were beaten by league powerhouses Wigan Athletic at Sixfields but the 1-0 defeat saw a small improvement in terms of performance that would be built on over the best month of our season.

Southend United came to Sixfields on a poor run and defied usual Cobblers logic by not actually ending a barren sequence and losing to Town. John-Joe O’Toole’s opener and a Jason Demetriou penalty had the game in the balance at half-time but second half strikes from Matt Grimes, also from the spot, and Alex Revell handed us a huge three points. Revell stormed towards the bench like a runaway train following his cameo and goal to scream “that’s why” at Jimmy and the bench. That’s why you don’t need to sign another striker presumably. He was right, in some ways.

Even more joyous occurrings followed at Bradford of all places – not usually the best hunting ground for the Cobblers. John-Joe headed home again and Chris Long set up an unexpected victory despite a late goal from the home side’s Paul Taylor.

We were on a roll! The playoffs were in sight! Well, maybe not, but this was fun. Two wins out of two was enough to send anyone potty so imagine the scenes when we actually made it three in succession by defeating the sinking MK Dons at Sixfields. Joe Bunney channeled his inner George Smith by storming down the left to assist the opener, from O’Toole again. MK threatened to ruin the party by equalising soon after but Chris Long got on the end of a Sam Hoskins cross to make it nine points from nine, pulling the plastic population down towards danger in the process.

JJOT was already being touted for League One Player of the Month even before yet another goal, this time at Ewood Park as Town nicked another excellent point. Danny Graham got the home side’s goal late on but it didn’t prevent January from being touted as a real turning point in the Cobblers’ season.

We had climbed out of the bottom four by the month’s end and were three points clear of MK Dons in 21st as the second half of the season kicked into gear.

Twitter Said:

@JoeAFC: Kevin Van Veen signing for Northampton..What a signing for @NTFC. Hasslebaink showing a clear statement of intent! Proven goalscorer in League One!

@ntfcbrasil Grande resultado! Nesta tarde, os Cobblers receberam o MK Dons, e a vitória veio novamente! John-Joe O’Toole e Chris Long marcaram e selaram a nossa vitória por 2 a 1!

@NQNTFC A goal and assist for John-Joe O’Toole at Bradford. Such an important cog in the Northampton machine. Amazing how far he has come at the Cobblers. A cult figure and for good reason. #ntfc

Moment of the Month:

For the first time in a while there’s an actual choice for this! Three big wins and perhaps the most impressive was the victory at Bradford.

Player of the Month:

John-Joe O’Toole had a huge month and deservedly won the League One Player of the Month award as well as the club award.

Song for the Month:

Coming up: Steadying the ship ahead of the final furlong, Berto madness and one of the worst 45 minutes ever seen by a Cobblers team at Sixfields.

The ‘A Load of Cobblers’ Alternative Review of the Season 2017/18: December

It’s Christmas time…there’s no need to be afraid. Well, actually, there was for Cobblers fans. Still deep in trouble in the bottom four and with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink still trying to formulate some sort of plan of escape it was to be a crucial period of the season and looking back on it, this is where major cracks appeared.

Drawing the final game of November with fellow strugglers Bury at home wasn’t ideal and even the Checkatrade Trophy couldn’t provide light relief this time as Portsmouth disposed of Jimmy’s men in the first knockout stage, winning 2-0 at Fratton Park.

So with the Cobblers out of all cup competitions, it was full focus on the league and a trip to Oldham got as many alarm bells ringing as that Bristol Rovers hammering early in Hasselbaink’s reign. While you could put the Gas defeat down to ironing out some early issues, there was no excuse for a 5-1 hammering here. Sam Foley got the only Town goal but it was all but lost at 3-0 by that point and the home side simply kicked on again to easily dispose of a poor looking Cobblers side.

A response was needed and one came briefly with a 2-1 home win over Walsall with Erhun Oztumer’s early strike reversed by a Chris Long brace. It was, though, to be our only December victory. Amadou Bakayoko was sent off late on for the visitors.

As had been the case with much of our season up to this point, fresh signs of hope faded quickly to make way for unfathomable defeats and dropped points. Once again it looked like we were doing something like playing football and grinding out results following the Walsall win and there was even an excellent home point gained from Blackburn Rovers two days before Christmas.

But December closed with back to back away defeats, 3-0 at Doncaster Rovers and 3-1 at Pompey. Town took the lead in the game on the south coast but there was never a real belief that we were about to hang on and end a pretty bleak calendar year in style.

So it was that with twenty five games played, the Cobblers had collected just 23 points and needed a huge improvement in the second half of the season to fight against a tide that was building and building towards the relegation coast line.

Twitter Said:

@James_ChronNTFC FT: Oldham 5-1 Cobblers. League Two isn’t so bad. We’ve had many woeful afternoons and this is another one to add to the collection.

@CobblersPast Amadou Bakayoko  the Walsall striker was the 96th player to be dismissed against the Cobblers since the club was formed in 1897! @ntfc #ntfc @cobblerspast

@Somerset_Pompey I don’t think I’ve ever seen a side look so scared as Cobblers were today, especially their defence. Looked as if they thought the ball was going to explode anytime it went near them, couldn’t get rid of it quick enough. Worst team I’ve seen this season by a Pompey mile.

Moment of the Month:

Winning a football match.

Player of the Month: Chris Long popped up with the goals during the only real high points.

Song for the Month:

Coming up: New faces, new results and the shoots of a possible recovery (again)…

Sixfields rebranding a sign of the times but name will never be lost

News was released yesterday that Sixfields has been rebranded the PTS Academy Stadium in a sponsorship deal for the next five years. It’s something that is happening across the country at football stadiums and though there was a small outcry from a few, this shouldn’t be seen as trampling on any history or the club grabbing more money any way they can.

Yes, we will be seeing the name ‘PTS Academy Stadium’ popping up in newspapers, on television reports and highlights shows but what really changes? To fans, the stadium will always be known as Sixfields (I can’t see many saying “I’m popping down the PTS to watch the game”) and it’s a way to give a spotlight to a local company rather than a national juggernaut that would have no connection to the club or to the town.

The PTS Academy are a training provider delivering apprenticeships, traineeships and accredited courses, funded by the government with a HQ in Moulton. The partnership looks like it will benefit both sides and create another community link between the club and a partner that is delivering for young people. In short, the deal seems to have more benefits than drawbacks.

The area of the club’s location, the history going back 24 years and fan habits will mean that the Sixfields name won’t ever be lost so let’s embrace this latest change and hope that there’ll be a few ‘Sixfields Roars’ come April and May next year!